Anti-Blackness and the South Asian Diaspora


Image sourced from https://www.mybindi.com

It’s not often that I bring in a deeply personal element to my blog concerning this matter. Probably because I didn’t know whether or not I could articulately write about this topic.

Predictably, this is an experience which has been niggling away at me for quite some time now. It’s an issue that I used to feel quite wary about discussing, because of the backlash I received for writing a post about Indians being politically defined as black. You can read here.

About a year ago, my aunt got married. In most cultures, when someone gets married, it’s a happy occasion where everyone generally attends the wedding in good spirits. However, her wedding wasn’t met with the usual fuss that most Indian weddings have. My aunt married out (so to speak) to a Nigerian man. News of her husband’s ethnicity ricocheted throughout my family, with many expressing their disgust, horror and sympathy for my great aunt and uncle (her parents). Some even went as far as to cut off contact with her because of what she had done.

It sounds like something that would have happened years ago – a family flips out because their daughter married out of their community – however it is surprising to see how widespread this reaction actually is across a variety of ethnic groups. What has stayed in my mind was the disappointment and the rage that so many of my family members felt the need to exercise. It is interesting to note that the anger mainly came from the men. But that is a topic for another day!

” […] Yeah, it’s ok, because we’re all the same underneath […] “

There are numerous articles, documentaries and films detailing the intolerance that many, with South Asian heritage, have towards individuals of African-Caribbean heritage – particularly men. Film maker, Gurinder Chadha, depicts a relationship between an Indian girl and a Caribbean boy in her film Bhaji on the Beach, which showed a near enough accurate portrayal of the reaction one would expect to see from such a relationship.

Another which particularly leaps out at me, was a relatively recent phone-in discussion during the Nihal Show on BBC Asian Network, where callers debated over intolerant and anti-black views that many members of the South Asian Diaspora believe in. It is a mindset,  which we would usually associate with an older generation steeped in prejudice who were not necessarily exposed to people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions. However, it is increasingly alarming to see such mentalities being cultivated in younger generations, who are generally well educated, professional, fairly affluent, have exposure to a variety of people.

Anti-blackness within the South Asian Diaspora and in the motherland is a contentious attitude that we must begin to acknowledge before we can think of ways to address it. As with many contemporary issues concerning the constructs of South Asian identity, it is natural to look back to history, and see where it all went so horribly wrong.

The first port of call is the British Empire which notoriously instilled ideas of inferiority and shame within its subjects across the world as they tried to appease their colonial masters. It is safe to say that many of these beliefs have sadly managed to stand the test of time and be present today in the form of colourism, a desire for Eurocentric facial features, inter-ethnic feuds and continued disputes over land due to newly drawn borders.

“Many of the native prisoners are only one degree removed from the animal and often created rows and fought among themselves.”

This is an excerpt from a letter written by one of the most prolific South Asian figureheads. He is often referred to as the ‘Father of a Nation.’ This extract was written by Mahatma Gandhi when he was forced to share a cell with black people. Gandhi, as a figure, is honoured by so many members of the South Asian for his peaceful protests against the British presence in India. Many often insist on focusing on Gandhi’s role in the liberation movement and how his contribution continues to inspire millions around the world.

The reason that I am focusing on Gandhi, in this respect, is because of the distinction between black Africans and Indians he wanted to make. By referring to black Africans as ‘kaffirs’ and insisting that Indians should not be using the same facilities as they did, he created a ‘them-and-us’ argument which is still visible across the Diaspora today.

There are those who also say that he was merely speaking from his experiences with black people, at the time. This is fair enough; he was brought up in a colonial setting and naturally absorbed social beliefs that surrounded him. Back then, his views would not have been considered to be particularly racist, but by modern standards, they are. With this in mind, how can we fully revere a man who held such views towards black Africans and those from lower castes? It’s natural to say that Gandhi was flawed; nearly every single human is, but given the level of elevation he is given by many South Asians, it is slightly disconcerting to overlook this fact.

[…] We all know at least one person who holds similarly bigoted views towards non-Asians. It’s a bit like a dirty open secret.

His reference to black Africans as ‘kaffirs’ and as ‘one degree’ above ‘the animal’ are no different to the prejudiced views that many people (of all generations) of South Asian descent privately believe. I’m pretty certain that we all know at least one person who holds similarly bigoted views towards non-Asians. It’s a bit like a dirty open secret.

There is a general, and rather blasé, comment of: “Yeah, it’s ok, because we’re all the same underneath our skin colour” only to then cast out men and women who date/marry outside of their ethnicity in the way that my aunt was. These are the very same people who, feel self entitled enough to go out, and protest against interfaith/interracial marriages when it has nothing to do with them and claim to be defending their ethnic heritage/religion – often at the expense of others.

When I really think about it I’m not sure which is more terrifying. The blatant, mouthy racism that we associate with thugs up until the 1990s? A burgeoning revival of racism and discrimination amongst and within ethnic minority groups? Or this new more discreet and sophisticated blanket of racism that is becoming ever present in well-educated and ‘liberal’ people?

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12 thoughts on “Anti-Blackness and the South Asian Diaspora

  1. Good Post. And I Am Sure They Would Not Feel The Same If Someone Married A White Spouse. Though That Is Also Marrying Out Of The Culture. And We All Know Why. Thank You For Having Your Own Opinions And Noticing One Of The Many Flaws Of These Prejudices.

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    • Hi! Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment on my post. I’m really sorry for my late reply – I had a personal emergency last week and didn’t blog etc – but I’m going through and replying to everyone’s comments on last week’s post.
      Precisely! There are no qualms for an individual of South Asian descent to marry an individual of Caucasian descent; from many conversations I’ve had with people (of differing generations including my own!) they believe that it’s an ‘upgrade’ and ‘socially acceptable.’ Such attitudes horrify me, but as I mentioned in a previous comment, it’s become a dirty open secret. And these attitudes are openly practised within the four walls of family homes without being addressed or challenged.
      I believe a part of it stems from a state of mental colonialism, whereby many individuals are subconsciously ruled by attitudes from that era. For those of South Asian heritage, it’s a huge part of our psyche, that we still have not fully addressed – let alone destabilised!
      Another part probably stems from a desire to prove that South Asians are superior to those of African-Caribbean descent, because we are ‘better’ because of our physical appearance, our culture, our history (though much of it has been distorted, policed and largely forgotten about) and a misplaced sense of pride in an identity which we don’t fully understand, how to construct or articulate to the next generation. We seem to have become a flock of sheep; miserably plodding along not paying to a wider context of history, society and culture – both Diasporic and from our various homelands.

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    • Hi 🙂 thanks for reading my post and leaving a comment. I’m sorry that my reply is coming so late – I had a personal emergency last week and didn’t blog etc.
      I genuinely dislike using the term ‘married out’ and I am looking for other ways to describe it when incorporating it into my work. I am so happy that your story has a positive shine to it; I’ve had many people send me their stories and some of them were painful beyond words.
      I hope and pray that South Asian attitudes towards those of African-Caribbean descent changes for the better; it simply does not make sense to uphold such backward views in a world that is increasingly modernising and shrinking.
      I believe that a part of it stems from a state of mental colonialism which has seeped its way, subconsciously, through generations without being addressed or discussed in a wider context with regards to South Asian ancient (and contemporary) history.
      It is naive to say: “But underneath we are all one” because I personally believe that the human race is nowhere near evolved (mentally or spiritually) to practise this concept in every single arena of life. We appear to thrive on divide-and-rule tactics, creating divisions and trying to outdo each other in every sense.
      The consequence for that is obvious: we become fragmented, isolated and lose our sense of compassion.

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    • Hi 🙂 thank you so much for reading my post and commenting. I’m really sorry that I’m replying late to your comment; I had a personal emergency come up last week and didn’t blog etc.
      I agree – unfortunately this topic has become the elephant in the room and is a dirty, open secret that we know is upheld but not challenged. I personally believe that it is, now, increasingly difficult to even hold a discussion about this because people are extremely disdainful of being called ‘racist’ or being told that their views are prejudiced.
      I don’t know if this issue will ever be resolved or reach a middle ground, but from what I’ve seen and heard (even from my own generation), this doesn’t look likely to change. It’s an attitude that people know exists, but don’t do anything to change it for the better.
      It makes you think which is worse: upholding such prejudiced views or standing by approving of them in silence?

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  3. Such a great topic – I have first hand experiences of this being mixed race with an Indian girlfriend. Your article is spot on thank you for writing this.

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    • Thank you so much for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I am so sorry that you have experienced this; it genuinely hurts my heart to hear it and it’s something I wish you didn’t have to experience it.
      I hope that things get easier for you – I’m happy to hear that you resonated with my post. Take care and thank you 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Anti-Blackness and the South Asian Diaspora | DIASPORA

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